Jamie Lloyd Whitten (April 18, 1910 – September 9, 1995) was an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who represented Mississippi in the United States House of Representatives from 1941 to 1995. He was at the time of his departure the longest-serving U.S. Representative ever (since surpassed by John Dingell) and the second-longest serving member of Congress ever (since surpassed by Dingell, Robert Byrd and Daniel Inouye). He is the longest-serving member ever of the United States House of Representatives from the state of Mississippi.
Early life, education, and early career
Jamie Whitten was born in Cascilla, Mississippi. He attended local public schools and the University of Mississippi where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He worked as a school teacher and principal, and was elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served in 1931 and 1932. He attained admission to the bar in 1932, and from 1933 to 1941 he was District Attorney of Mississippi's 17th District, which included his home county of Tallahatchie.
U.S. House of Representatives
In 1941, Whitten was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in a special election to represent the state's 2nd District, in the northern part of the state. The seat had come open as a result of incumbent Congressman Wall Doxey's election to the United States Senate. He was elected to a full term in 1942 and was re-elected 25 more times.
In 1966, Whitten faced a challenge from Seelig Wise, a cotton and soybean farmer from Coahoma County, the first Republican to be elected to the Mississippi State Senate since Reconstruction. Whitten won easily, and Wise was defeated for reelection to the state Senate in 1967, as the second Rubel Phillips gubernatorial campaign went down to crushing defeat statewide.
Whitten's district was renumbered as the 1st District after the 1970 Census.
His service from November 4, 1941 to January 3, 1995 set a record for length of service in the House, which remained unbroken until February 11, 2009, when Michigan Congressman John Dingell surpassed it. Whitten is also the 5th Longest serving Congressman (House and/or Senate) behind Daniel Inouye, Carl T. Hayden, Robert Byrd and John Dingell.
Whitten was originally a segregationist, as were many of his colleagues from Mississippi and the rest of the South. He signed the Southern Manifesto condemning the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education, which desegregated public schools. Along with virtually the entire Mississippi congressional delegation, he voted against the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, 1965 and 1968. Whitten later apologized for these votes, calling them a "mistake" caused by severe misjudgment. He voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1991. As a champion for large farming operations, he fought against the FDA's early 1970s recommendation of restricting the use of antibiotics as the FDA was concerned about the developing of drug resistant bacteria as a result. Whitten threatened to pull budgets if the FDA continue with this direction.
He supported a number of liberal issues and later in his career frequently clashed with the Reagan administration on policy matters. He voted against Reagan's economic plans, tax cuts, increased defense spending, balanced budget initiative, tort reform, welfare reform, abortion restrictions, missile defense system, and the Persian Gulf War. Although Whitten represented a district that grew increasingly suburban and Republican from the 1970s onward, his opposition to Reagan's program did not affect him at the ballot box. Indeed, his seniority and popularity resulted in him facing only "sacrificial lamb" opponents on the occasions he faced any opposition at all. Nonetheless, it was taken for granted that he would be succeeded by a Republican when he retired.
Declining to run for reelection to a historic 28th term in 1994, Whitten retired from the House as America's longest serving Congressman (53 years and two months). He retired to his home in Oxford, Mississippi and died there on September 9, 1995, aged 85, eight months after he was indeed succeeded by a Republican, Roger Wicker.
Throughout most of his tenure in the House, Whitten served on the Appropriations Committee, ultimately serving as Chairman from the 1979 retirement of George H. Mahon until newly elected Democrats in the House Democratic Caucus removed him in favor of William Huston Natcher after the 1992 election.
Whitten authored That We May Live, written largely as a pro-development, pro-chemical pesticide answer to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the seminal 1962 book that helped spur the modern environmental movement.
The Jamie Whitten Historical Site is located at the bridge of the Natchez Trace Parkway over the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, two projects that Whitten had successfully fought to fund over his house tenure, overcoming strong opposition from Conservatives to their construction using federal funds.
In June 1995, Congress renamed the main headquarters building of the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC the Jamie L. Whitten Building in his honor.
The Beta Beta chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the University of Mississippi has named their leadership award after brother Whitten. Each year one graduating brother is selected to receive the award based on his leadership and commitment to the chapter, university, and community.